Gender Differences in Drunk Driving Behavior

Eka Pebri




California State University, Fullerton


Gender differences in drunk driving behavior were assessed using a questionnaire, which was posted on the Web. Women and men did not significantly differ in alcohol intake. However, women were less likely to adopt drunk driving behavior than men. Women’s drunk driving behaviors were found to be affected by social control and moral inhibition while men were not. These findings suggested that men and women tend to use different moral reasoning in justifying their drunk driving behavior.

Gender Differences in Drunk Driving Behavior

Based on the information from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, total number of traffic fatalities in 1999 was 41,611. Alcohol related fatalities alone accounted for 15,786 (38%) of these deaths. The number was not far different from the previous year, from 41,471 total traffic fatalities, 15,935 (39%) were alcohol related fatalities. Furthermore, the rate of men (12,174 in 1999 and 12,124 in 1998) involved in alcohol related traffic accident was about 3 times higher than that of women (3,609 in 1999 and 3,804 in1998) in both years. This gender differences appear to be slightly higher than in 1983 and 1994 in which on those two years men’s rate was only twice that of women’s (25% vs. 40% in 1983 and 15% vs. 28% in 1994). Hence it is important to understand the underlying differences that could explain why men tend to drunk and drive than women.

According to theory of moral reasoning by Gilligan (1977,1982), there are gender differences between men and women in their moral reasoning in which men tend to be more justice-oriented and women tend to be more care-oriented. “Justice oriented morality is concerned with perceived equality and oppression of individuals, while care oriented morality is concerned with responsibility of care, need and abandonment of individuals” (Marelich, p.397). Previous studies of gender differences in drunk driving (Marelich, Berger, & McKenna, 2000) based their studies on this theory. The studies were conducted in three different years. In 1983 and 1986, they used 40 items on credibility of sanctions, perception of risks and costs associated with drunk driving, knowledge of laws pertaining to drinking and driving, and self-reported drinking behavior and violations in the past year. In 1994, 20 items addressing social influences on driving after drinking were added to their questionnaire. The results of their study indicated that women tend to show a greater concern than men in legal sanctions while men tend to be more knowledgeable in law regulating drunk driving behavior than women. Women also show a greater effect of social influences and were more likely to show a stronger internalized control than men.

The current study was designed to replicate Marelich, et al (2000) to examine gender differences in drunk driving behavior. Based on previous results, it was expected that women would show less drunk driving behavior than men. Furthermore it was also expected that women’s drunk driving behavior would be affected by social control and internalized inhibition whereas men’s would be affected by the law.


Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire regarding alcohol and driving as honestly as possible. If they found the questions in the study too disturbing to read, they were suggested to participate to another study.


There were a total of 31 questions, which took about 5 minutes to complete. Of 31 questions, 26 were drinking and driving related questions and 5 questions were demographic. Some of the questions required short answer response and some were rated on 4-5 point likert scales. The exact materials can be viewed at URL


            Questionnaire was posted on the web. Each participant was free to work at his or her own pace.


Participants were Internet users from around the world. There were total of 165 (62 were men and 103 were women) participants in this study. Students from lower division psychology courses were also recruited (103; 38 were men and 65 were women) from the subject pool at CSUF.


The results of the current study were grouped into eight categories (Table 1): drinking and driving behavior, knowledge of the law, credibility of sanctions, personal attitudes, perception of social controls, legal consequences, social embarrassment and moral inhibition. In drinking and driving behavior, women were slightly lower than men in average drinking intake. However, the difference between the two means was not significant. In knowledge of the law and belief in sanction, women were slightly higher than men in both categories but there were no significant gender differences on those two categories. In personal attitudes, women were more likely than male to say that it was morally wrong to drive after four drinks and were more likely to support random breath testing. These means were significantly different at .05 alpha level. In the perception of social controls, women were more likely to express disapproval from a friend for driving after four drinks. On the other hand, men were significantly more likely than women to believe that drinking would be helpful in their jobs. Women also expressed more concern than men in legal consequences, as indicated by higher means on all items in the categories. However, they were not significant, so these differences might be due to chance. In social embarrassment and moral inhibition, women scored higher than men. These results were significant at .05, indicating that women were more embarrassed and were more morally inhibited to drunk driving behavior.

In addition, factor analysis was performed. The results were depicted in Table 2. There are eight different factors in which gender differences were high on factor one and four. Indicated by high correlation between gender and the two factors. By observing the correlation coefficient in factor one and four, factor one can be labeled as social factor whereas factor four can be labeled as belief factor. Gender differences in social factor were found to be related to questions number 21,22, and 23 which dealt with embarrassment, lose respect and hurt whereas in belief factor were on questions dealt with probability of getting arrested or getting involved in traffic accident.


The result of this study indicated that women were less likely to drunk and drive. This result supported the first hypothesis, which stated that women would show less drunk driving behavior than men.

The second hypothesis, which was women’s drunk driving behavior would be affected by social and internalized inhibition while men would base their drunk driving behavior on justice orientation, was only supported partially. The result only indicated that women were more embarrassed and were more morally inhibited of drunk driving. Men did not score higher in knowledge of the law and the results were not significant either. This finding thus only supported the result of the previous study and Gilligan’s theory partially. This discrepancy might be due to several possibilities. First, males’ sample size in this study was small. Secondly, men could be using other moral reasoning beside justice orientation. Men could be based their drunk driving behavior on their experiences. If they have never been caught, penalized or hurt from their drunk driving behavior, they might continue driving drunk. Since this study did not assess differences between men who have not and have been hurt by their drunk driving behavior, the possibility of men would based their drunk driving behavior on their experiences is open to be investigated for future study.

Berger, D.E., Marelich, W.D., & Mckenna, R.B. (2000). Gender differences in the control of alcohol-impaired driving in california. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 396-400.

Gilligan, C. In a different voice: Women’s conceptions of self and of morality. Harvard Educ. Rev. 47: 481-517, 1997

Gilligan, C. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1982

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,

Table 1

Mean, standard deviation, and t-score for men and women


Mean (SD)


Drinking and driving behavior



Knowledge of the law

    There is BAC limit
  • Probability of arrest if drunk and drive
  • Actual penalties would “hurt me”

50.79 (32.77)

4.23 (1.03)

59.92 (29.25)

4.38 (0.97)



Personal attitudes





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